It’s the Cultural Revolution All Over Again!

Successful social science academics enter power relationships with their students that are as unequal as any they describe in wider society. They have been placed in positions of privilege by hegemonies quite as real and powerful as any others in our society: those of academia. These hegemonies are powered by the same forces as any others: money, tradition, inherited status, nepotism. In fact, academia is complicit in all the injustices of our societies, as universities have long been the beneficiaries of those vested interests. As have all their students, irrespective of racial heritage: the universities they attend have been established, supported and grown through the wealth of slave-owning, imperial, hierarchical and oppressive nations.  

From these (tainted) positions, Social Science academic can teach their theory-as-fact virtually unopposed, then set and mark the assessments on them that could decide their students’ futures. They can mutually reinforce each other’s statuses by referring to each other in their respective publications. This allows them to amplify their messages and their influence far beyond those of the normal pub philosopher, without even going near the internet. 

Young people, who make up the student population, are always the activist generation. They have the most time and energy and tend to be unencumbered by financial responsibilities, mortgages and children. They are still learning about their world and relish meta-narratives that seem to explain it in understandable structures. They have newly emerged into their majority after a life-time of being controlled by their parents and teachers, and they still feel resentful, having spent the last few years in conflict with them as they tried to break free. They’ve had enough of being pushed around and they want to exercise power.

They are also still developing their senses of self, so it is incredibly important to establish their identities and their tribes, and they have not yet been bludgeoned by fate and their own weaknesses into admitting how fatally morally compromised we all are. They are desperate to defend the righteousness of any position they adopt. 

These are probably the people who are most influenced by the social theorists. They take their courses, listen avidly to their lectures, write essays demonstrating how right they are. Especially if the theorist appears to be part of a counter-culture. 

They often lack perspective because they have no way of knowing how different the academic zeitgeist was even just a few years before. They are only beginning to learn how to sceptically analyse what they are told. They can be induced to accept theories as indisputable truths, because their lecturers suggest they are the pre-conditions or foundations of intellectual debate[1]

Young people are also the most adept at navigating the internet and social media, so it is no surprise that the debates and language of the campus end up first on social media and then on the streets. Or that, on K-pop platforms, teenage and pre-teen fans bandy terms such as “transphobic” and “racial bias” like children in a war zone playing with live ammunition. 

Add in how confrontational social media is, and its global reach, and we find ourselves prey to super-charged monsters that rampage across the planet like Godzilla or Covid-19, before subsiding,  conceding to the next angry fashion. 

It’s the cultural revolution all over again!


[1] Probably because the lecturers themselves have forgotten that their pet theories can be challenged. Our brains reinforce the neural pathways we use most often. We are designed to get set in our ways.

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